Brand New Congress. Justice Dems. The Poor People’s Campaign. DSA. All of these movements have taken hold in American political discourse, promising to forge a bolder, brighter path forward for the Democratic Party, with exciting candidates and fresh, new energy. By anyone’s estimate, I would be a prime candidate for enthusiastic involvement in these movements, as a young, urban-dwelling, “woman of color” (to use their nomenclature) with left-leaning tendencies.
All of it rings hollow for me.
I feel a sense of deep bitterness as I view so many of my peers engage with these movements, excited about the direction in which Democratic politics are going. As these movements steadily tack the core of the party to the Left, they are still refusing to contend with the distinct justice claim of reparations owed to ADOS. It’s not even on the table, and while I will go over some points using their online presence as evidence, when I move in these circles in real life, the dialogue that excludes ADOS is the same, tired game.
Take a scroll through the platform put out by Reverend Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. The demands are thorough, ranging from a reformation of the immigration system to relief from student loan debt. What you won’t find, however, is an acknowledgment of the distinct justice claim of reparations owed to ADOS for the system of U.S. chattel slavery and the ensuing systems of Jim Crow, mass incarceration, segregation, redlining, contract buying, convict leasing, subprime lending, environmental injustice, property tax overvaluation, a system of miseducation, etc. In the Poor People’s Campaign vision of America, all downtrodden, oppressed Americans are facing similar conditions and forming a broad, multiracial coalition that ignores this distinct history and unique justice claim is the only path forward.
Take a look through the platform put out by the Justice Dems, a PAC committed to securing economic rights for workers, enacting the Green New Deal and a Federal Jobs Guarantee, bringing an end to warmongering, and overall, espousing a radical transformation of the centrist liberal ideology that they feel impedes real progress in the Democratic Party. Much to the chagrin of more centrist black Democrats, most notably the establishment members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Justice Dems don’t see any problem with challenging black congressional incumbents in favor of non-black candidates who align more fully with their platform. The crazy thing about this spat to me is that both the CBC members and the Justice Dems ignore the specific needs of ADOS in this feud, with CBC members having long eschewed their responsibilities to the communities they serve in favor of “people of color” rhetoric and Justice Dems pretending as though we live in a post-racial reality where specifically pointing to the concerns of ADOS is no longer needed.
Take a scroll through the platform for the Brand New Congress, a group that actually has the audacity to craft a 21st Century Bill of Rights with no mention of reparations for ADOS or a Black Agenda in sight. There is no way that you can claim to have a “human rights” campaign in this country without the fulfillment of a debt owed to the descendants of U.S. chattel slavery. There is no hope for a more perfect union without closing the lineage wealth gap through specific and comprehensive federal policies. How on earth do you think that you have the right to ignore a justice claim that eats at our nation’s very moral core while pretending to build a platform with a “moral foundation?”
So, it’s very clear that all of these campaigns and coalitions refuse to grapple with the distinct failure and collapse that ADOS communities are experiencing. Consider the following points that make the specificity of this justice claim so imperative, but understand that this is by no means exhaustive:
- These campaigns claim to be devoted to mitigating the climate crisis, but only in a fashion that ignores the distinct historical environmental oppression meted out to ADOS communities. Consider the following fact found in a 2018 EPA report: “….black Americans are three times more likely to die from exposure to air pollutants than their white counterparts….Blacks, specifically, had 1.54 times higher [emissions] burden than did the overall population.” (Source) No matter how many “people of color” these coalitions insist on dropping in discussions of environmental racism, research finds that there is something distinct about the environmental load borne by ADOS communities.
- “African Americans accounted for 40 percent of all people experiencing homelessness in 2019 and 52 percent of people experiencing homelessness as members of families with children, despite being 13 percent of the U.S. population.” (Source) These coalitions refuse to acknowledge the lineage-based policies that result in ADOS homelessness.
- “Because most illegal immigrants overwhelmingly seek work in the low skilled labor market and because the black American labor force is so disproportionately concentrated in this same low wage sector, there is little doubt that there is significant overlap in competition for jobs in this sector of the labor market.” (Source) These coalitions refuse to grapple with the fact that crafting immigration policies with the ADOS workforce in mind is imperative. Otherwise, we will continue to fray the social fabric of majority-ADOS communities with joblessness and underemployment. They shut these conversations down immediately, using knee jerk claims of “xenophobia” as cover for their refusal to deal with the material realities of ADOS workers.
- “Eliminating student debt for all households would increase the racial wealth gap. While eliminating student debt for all households regardless of income increases median net worth for young white and Black households, white families see a greater benefit likely due to a higher likelihood of completing college and graduate degree programs. Policies which eliminate all student debt for young households would expand the divide between median Black and white wealth by an additional 9 percent.” (Source) These coalitions frequently espouse policies that would cancel all student debt with no regard to household income or wealth, ignoring research that shows this would only serve to exacerbate existing racial wealth inequities. These coalitions make their priorities clear by explicitly or implicitly attempting to make a moral argument in favor of prioritizing student debt over reparations.
- Black wealth is declining faster than other racial groups, as an Institute for Policy Studies report notes: “A new report calculates that median wealth for black Americans will fall to $0 by 2053, if current trends continue. ” (Source) These coalitions are masking the distinct, singular failure of policy as it relates to ADOS by using terms like “black and brown,” ignoring the fact that Latino wealth will be fourteen times the amount of black wealth by 2050.
These platforms are pretending they live in a world prior to the online presence of Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore, who have given countless black folks a priceless political education. These race-blind, lineage-blind, “Crayola politics” (as Yvette Carnell would say) are not going to work in our current moment.
To those who espouse these movements as visionaries forging a new path forward in American politics: You are ignoring ADOS at your own peril.
You will not succeed in building a Leftist coalition that pretends as though civil, social, and economic liberty for ADOS is settled law, giving us free reign to move on to the securing of those rights for other marginalized groups.
You will not succeed in building a Leftist coalition that pretends as though ADOS has a shared history, shared current material reality, and shared projected fate with all other non-white ethnic groups.
And finally, you will not succeed in building a Leftist coalition that pretends as though we live in an alternate reality, one in which we had completed or were well on our way to enacting a multigenerational comprehensive program of federal reparations for ADOS.
Change course, and do so quickly. Send representatives of your movements to build relationships with ADOS thought leaders, and make the ADOS reparations claim and Black Agenda a central part of your movement. For if you strive to make your platforms the new moral core of the Democratic Party, you will most certainly need the approval and co-sign of ADOS …the backbone and spine of that very same party.
“A Bill of Rights for the 21st Century.” Brand New Congress, 8 Nov. 2019, brandnewcongress.org/Platform.
Cox, Bartees. “Why Black Americans Are Three Times More Likely to Die from Pollution.” Quartz, Quartz, 13 Mar. 2018, qz.com/1226984/environmental-racism-has-left-black-americans-three-times-more-likely-to-die-from-pollution/.
Draut, Tamara, et al. “Less Debt, More Equity: Lowering Student Debt While Closing the Black-White Wealth Gap.” Demos, Nov. 2015, www.demos.org/research/less-debt-more-equity-lowering-student-debt-while-closing-black-white-wealth-gap.
Henry, Meghan, et al. The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2020, The 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, files.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2019-AHAR-Part-1.pdf.
“Justice Democrats: It’s #OurTime.” Justicedemocrats.com, 2019, www.justicedemocrats.com/candidates/.
Jr., Vernon M. Briggs. “Illegal Immigration: The Impact on Wages and Employment of Black Workers.” CIS.org, Apr. 2008, cis.org/Testimony/Illegal-Immigration-Impact-Wages-and-Employment-Black-Workers.
“Our Demands.” Poor People’s Campaign, www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/about/our-demands/.